Images of women's sexuality in advertisements: a content analysis of Black- and White-oriented women's and men's magazines

Images of women's sexuality in advertisements: a content analysis of Black- and White-oriented women's and men's magazinesThe average person in the United States is exposed to over 3,000 advertisements per day (Kilbourne & Jhally, 2000); these permeate our society through such media as television, magazines, billboards, and internet banners. The fact that advertisements are so pervasive suggests that they have a significant impact on society.

The media play a large part in the socialization process, perhaps especially socialization into gender roles (Goffman, 1979; Lindsey, 1997; MacKinnon, 1989; Strinati, 1995). The media both reflect and reinforce traditional gender roles. Most people realize that the images in the media do not always, in fact rarely, reflect reality. However, that does not mean that these images are not influential. Advertisements often represent a type of fantasy, or ideal, image of the way that things should be (Gornick, 1979). Specifically, they help to reinforce how the ideal woman should look and behave. According to many advertisements, the ideal woman is an object that exists to satisfy men's sexual desires.

Previous researchers have analyzed the images of women in magazine advertisements, and concluded that women are portrayed as sex objects (Archer, Iritani, Kimes, & Barrios, 1983; Courtney & Whipple, 1983; Goffman, 1979; Kang, 1997; Kilbourne & Jhally, 2000; Krassas, Blauwkamp, & Weaseling, 2001; Lueptow, Garovich-Szabo, & Lueptow, 2001). It is important to study the portrayal of women's sexuality because it has been suggested that sexuality is the root cause of gender inequality (e.g., MacKinnon, 1989). MacKinnon (1989), for example, explained that "sexuality (is) the dynamic of the inequality of the sexes" (p. 130). However, researchers have generally examined advertisements in mainstream women's magazines or mainstream gender-neutral magazines, where the majority of the readers are White. (2) Black women have been excluded from most analyses because, as prior research has shown, they are under-represented in the mainstream media (Coltrane & Messineo, 2000; Jackson & Ervin, 1991). Although some research has focused on media images geared specifically toward African American audiences (Humphrey & Schuman, 1984; McLaughlin & Goulet, 1999; Thomas & Treiber, 2000) or male audiences (Coltrane & Messineo, 2000; Krassas et al., 2001), even less research has focused on the differences between both the gender and race of the audience simultaneously. There are no studies of Black men as the primary audience. This research addresses this gap in the literature by considering Black men, as well as White men, and Black and White women, as the audience for images of women.

Images of Women in Mainstream Media

Goffman (1979) was one of the first sociologists to analyze gender stereotypes in advertisements. He argued that advertisements help to construct the ideals of masculinity and femininity. He found that women were often portrayed in very stereotypical ways, such as in submissive roles or family roles, and in lower physical and social positions than men. Although the actual position of many women in society may have improved considerably since Goffman's analysis, previous studies have shown that the images of women in advertisements have not changed appreciably (Kang, 1997; Lueptow et al., 2001; McLaughlin & Goulet, 1999; Milburn, Carney, & Ramirez, 2001; Paff & Lakner, 1997). Women are still shown primarily in submissive positions and as sex objects. Sexual women are often used in advertisements for men to imply a sexual relationship between the man who uses the product and the woman in the advertisement. Sexual women are also used in advertisements for women to imply that the product will increase the user's appeal to men (Courtney & Whipple, 1983). Advertisements continuously promote the message that a woman's ultimate goal is to attract men. However, it is important to note that "advertisements depict for us not necessarily how we actually behave as men and women but how we think men and women behave" (Gornick, 1979, p. 7).

There are now more media outlets for various audiences, and advertisers increasingly target certain groups. However, in a patriarchal society, the image of sexuality that is presented to all people is highly influenced by a heterosexual man's perspective. From this perspective, sexual attractiveness in women is associated with physical beauty. A sign of status for a man is to have a physically attractive woman by his side. The more physically attractive a woman is, the more prestige she will bring to her male partner/spouse (Renzetti & Curran, 1999). Therefore, it is men who ultimately benefit from the media images of women's sexuality and beauty. MacKinnon (1989) argued that sexuality is the underlying cause of gender inequality. She noted, "sexuality is substantially what makes the gender division be what it is, which is male dominant" (p. 130). Thus, the continuous showing in the media of women as submissive sex objects reinforces the gender hierarchy.

It has been suggested that media that target women are more likely to portray women in a way that reflects reality, and thus should be more responsive to the changing situation of women in society than media that target men and women, or only men (Strinati, 1995). However, researchers have shown that women are still often shown as sex objects in media designed specifically for women, which implies that advertisers believe that women accept an objectified and passive view of themselves (Courtney & Whipple, 1983). Coltrane and Messineo (2000) found that television commercials that targeted women contained about as many stereotypes as did those intended for other audiences. Another recent study, which compared the images of sexuality presented in the men's magazine Playboy and the women's magazine Cosmopolitan, demonstrated that both magazines displayed similar ideas about sexuality and women's sexual attractiveness (Krassas et al., 2001). The messages conveyed through Cosmopolitan, however, were subtler, because there was the need to appeal to a woman's sense of empowerment when addressing women specifically. These findings led to my first hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1. Sexual women will be portrayed with characteristics such as submissiveness and dependency in both women's and men's mainstream/White-oriented magazines.

Images of Black Women in the Media

Researchers who analyze images of women in advertisements often take for granted that these images apply to all women. However, most women in the images they analyze are White. Therefore, the image of women as submissive sex objects applies specifically to White women. Ethnic minority women are subjected to other forms of repression by the media. Specifically, minority women are excluded from much mainstream media, and, when included at all, they are often portrayed according to racially specific gender stereotypes.

The number of ethnic minorities in the media has increased in recent decades, often with a few token minorities in a White crowd, in order to appear sensitive to ethnic minorities (Cortese, 1999). However, Blacks continue to be underrepresented in mainstream media. Ross (2000) pointed out that even when Black characters appear on television, they usually have White partners. Humphrey and Schuman (1984) found that between the years 1950 and 1982, the number of Blacks had increased, although Blacks continued to be underrep-resented in the mainstream media. After analyzing 962 advertisements in fashion magazines, Jackson and Ervin (1991) found that only 23 advertisements contained Black women, and those women were often only shown from a distance. Coltrane and Messineo (2000) found, in their analysis of television commercials, that racial minorities were rarely shown in commercials, White women were most often portrayed as sex objects, and Black women were often shown as inconsequential. They also found that "regardless of race or ethnicity, women continue to be much more likely than men to be shown as sex objects, but it is White women who are singled out as icons of beauty" (p. 383).

Stereotypes of Black women that have been portrayed in the mainstream media differ from those of White women. Black women's sexuality has often been portrayed as overly aggressive and divergent from the submissive image of women's sexuality that is most prominent in society. The most common media images of Black women have been classified as the matriarch, as Sapphire, and as Jezebel (Collins, 2000; Jewell, 1993). The Jezebel image is meant to present the sexuality of Black women as aggressive, and it has persisted through many generations. However, the characteristics displayed by the matriarch and Sapphire images are highly correlated with those of the Jezebel.